When Your Child with Food Allergies Goes Off to College – One Mom’s Experience with Letting Go

Today I hope you don’t mind me sharing an off topic post with you, something that has been weighing heavily on my heart and why I’ve been less present on the blog this summer. I scribbled it out on the way home from dropping my middle son, who has severe food allergies, off at college. It’s my raw experience of letting go and saying goodbye.

When your child with food allergies goes off to college - one mom's experience with letting go at I'm an Organizing Junkie blog

This isn’t my first rodeo. Two years ago my daughter left for university and it was a sad day for sure. Many tears were shed as I worried that maybe I hadn’t taught her enough life lessons to handle a world that can be so unpredictable. Would a world that can often be cruel, be kind to her? Would she know how to cope when it wasn’t? Would she thrive and be happy in the path she chose for herself?

I feel all these same things this time around with my son leaving but it’s also very very different. This time I say goodbye to a child that also happens to have life threatening food allergies. Diagnosed as an infant with allergies to dairy, gluten, eggs, fish and nuts, he had his first anaphylaxis reaction at just 6 months old. It was as terrifying as you can imagine. I first wrote about our experience with food allergies 10 years ago on the blog when my son was just seven years old.

For 17 years my life has revolved around keeping my son safe. Never a day went by that I wasn’t constantly scanning a room for possible contaminants or analyzing the people in his presence that might unknowingly expose him to foods that could put him at risk for a reaction. Any surface with dairy residue or crumbs of wheat could be deadly for him. We educated and put protocols in place to try and protect him. Then as he got older and started school, he carried his EpiPen himself in the cutest little Spider-man fanny pack. Every single day I’d remind him to take his EpiPen with him whenever he left the house. As a teenager my son took on more and more responsibility for cooking his own safe meals and scoping out his environment. When it was time to look at colleges, we carefully chose a school with studio dorm rooms equipped with kitchen facilities so he wouldn’t have to worry about contamination risks that come with both a roommate and a cafeteria.

I know he’s ready, I’m just not sure I am. All these years of preparation have led up to this very moment of letting go. And yet I’m terrified and excited for him all at the same time. Motherhood is like that isn’t it. I’m thrilled for him and his independence and how happy he is about the whole thing but in that I have to figure out how to turn off the constant vigilance that has been my life for the past 17 years. Even with my guard constantly up I was still the cause of two accidental exposures when he was a teen…once when I gave him a store bought cinnamon bun that I missed had egg as an ingredient and the unfortunate time I gave him oatmeal labeled as gluten-free, only to find out the hard way that it clearly wasn’t gluten-free. I know how easily these accidents can happen and that makes the fear very real for me.

My son no longer uses a Spider-man fanny pack, but the way I felt that day he started Kindergarten so long ago, as I watched him walk into the classroom all by himself, is the same way I feel today dropping him off at college. My heart is racing, it feels hard to breathe and I’m trying so hard to distract myself from the tears that threaten to spill over. I avoid looking at him so he doesn’t see the panic in my eyes. I have to say goodbye and trust the One who ultimately loves him more than I do. My only goal in this transition phase is to simply take it one day at a time and hold on to the promise that God’s grace is sufficient for today.

We’ve prepped his dorm room and stocked his fridge and I remind him again to be careful, to never let his guard down around food, to constantly ask about ingredients at restaurants, to never ever make assumptions about what is safe and to always make sure he has his Epi with him. “I know, Mom”, he says. It’s nothing he hasn’t heard a million times before but it makes me feel better to say it anyway. I beg him to return my texts as I know the panic will be unbearable the longer I have to wait to hear back from him wondering if something might have happened to him alone in his room. We agree on a “I’m not dead, just busy” emoji he can quickly send me in those situations. I thank him for humoring me. I pray he follows through and I pray that I don’t send him texts every hour on the hour. I will get through this, but it will take some time.

I simply cannot delay the inevitable any longer. It’s time to say goodbye. Letting go is just so incredibly hard.

I take a deep breath, give him a big hug and as we drive away, I feel the tears that I have fought back for weeks silently begin to fall.






Filed under: My Life


22 Responses to When Your Child with Food Allergies Goes Off to College – One Mom’s Experience with Letting Go

  1. 1
    Susan says

    My son is in his junior year of high school & we are in the “getting ready to take the ACT phase” & looking at colleges. He’s an only child & I am getting nervous already. I cried when I read your blog. I know your son is ready…but it’s so hard to let go.

    • 1.1
      Laura Wittmann says

      So hard Susan, this parenting gig is not for sissies that is for sure. All the best to you and your son.

  2. 2
    Brandi W. says

    Thank you so much for this post. Being a mother of two boys, both with severe food allergies, it is good to know I am not the only one who feels this way. My oldest is in second grade and we almost lost him when he drank milk at 4 years old when he was not in our care. My husband and I are double checking each other all of the time, out of nesscessity, not just because we are crazy. Although I do feel crazy quite often, like when talking to his new teacher this year and they asked if he could eat doughnuts after reviewing his allergies with them. He is allergic to wheat, egg, milk, peanuts, pistachios, cashews, chicken, & turkey. Thank you so much again for your post. It’s nice for someone else to understand what we go through, instead of looking at me like I have 3 heads.

    • 2.1
      Laura Wittmann says

      Oh my thank you for leaving this comment. THIS is why I felt it so important to write this post. I was feeling so alone as well and I totally get the whole crazy thing. Hang in there momma, I know how hard it is. ((hugs))

  3. 3
    Colleen says

    My family is food allergy safe we have 2 close families whose children have life threatening food allergies. We hosted one family when they were inbetween during a move. We had the children of each family eat in shifts unless all were eating allergy safe foods. We were temporarily and not wholly in charge care givers and it was so worry some and tiring and also feel good as the parents trusted us to care for their child.

    The other family is so fun 2 children 1 highly allergic to some foods the other child ok
    So we were at the school one day after drop off and I asked the mom and allergy free child to come back with me to our house and chat
    They had not eaten as their morning had been choas getting the one taken care of

    So I offered our French toast but was asking about the child the mother was so cool she wrote he has no food worries ( the family just found it best for them to all eat the way the most allergy sensitive must eat)so she told he every thing was safe to eat and we all had a nice time chatting while they were able to eat freely.

    Both family have had odd things go wrong while they were trying to do everything right

    One had a huge bandaid ordeal as the child had a terrible reaction to the same brand they had used without any problems
    The other was one of the children became sensitive to Fugi apples we watched that happen we were going to the pool only allergy safe foods
    We gave all the children apples fugi apples one boy became itchy rolling on the carpet to scratch his body
    We noticed no breathing problems
    Do the pool allowing free eating of our packed foods
    The next time we served fugi apples same itchy and coughing mother was with us we all continued to the pool
    Next thing the mom said she tried her son with careful monitoring with fugi apples and itchy and cough
    Tired him with a different variety of apple no itchy no cough
    No idea if it was the variety of Apple or if it was how they were raised/processed
    But for use as concerned friends (outsiders) we removed apples from foods we brought to joint gatherings

    • 3.1
      Laura Wittmann says

      What an amazing friend you are!! I thank you so much for your understanding and compassion with your friends, I wish there were more people like you out there!!

  4. 4
    Amy says

    Oh my goodness- I can only imagine how terrifying this must be for you and all parents of kids with allergies!! Best wishes to your son and you as you both go through this exciting and scary transition!

    • 4.1
      Laura Wittmann says

      Thank you Amy, I really appreciate that! xo

  5. 5
    Brenda says

    I commend you for writing this post. I’m sure you’ve helped a lot of moms out there who feel the same way, or will have to go through this some time in the future. I understand some of what you’ve been through. My son has environmental allergies – he’s allergic to absolutely everything that grows, and many other things. He’s even been hospitalized for them a few times. I am always on the look out for a gardener, pollen floating in the air, etc. When I see one, we quickly close our windows as fast as we can. When I hear one at home, I run around like a madwoman closing all the windows. My son commutes to college, but it’s 2 hours each way, and I worry about him also. I know this is nothing compared to what you’re going through, but I wanted to let you know, I understand a little bit and will be praying for you.

    • 5.1
      Laura Wittmann says

      My husband has environmental allergies and it’s hard to watch them suffer especially when you can’t really avoid it. So hard. Thank you for your prayers!

  6. 6
    Christine says

    I ended up seeing a counselor when my son with food allergies left for college because my anxiety was over the top. As someone said above, he was ready but I was not. One thing she said that I remember is that this is like taking a coat off that I have worn for 10 years (since accurate diagnosis). I feel like I kept him alive every day and that coat has to be taken off now. He has survived his freshman year and has just gone back to school last week. It is very scary, bit I survived, too.

    • 6.1
      Laura Wittmann says

      Thank you Christine, I really needed to hear this. Yes I totally understand that analogy. It’s figuring out my new identity now I guess. Thank you for sharing and so glad to hear your son is doing well!

  7. 7
    Roan says

    Laura, I am so sorry! I know the heartache of leaving a child at college (I’ve done it 3 times in 4 years), but I cannot imagine having the burden of life-threatening allergies to worry about too! My oldest two girls got married this summer. One moved to Romania and one 9 hours away. My 3rd child began his freshman year of college 12 hours away (in Tampa! where Hurricane Irma is expected to tear through Sunday night….)Anyway. I have told everyone I know that parenting young adult children is way harder than when I had 5 little ones. The emotional toil and worry can wear. you. out. I pray, pray, and pray some more. All the time. I also read my Bible and look for encouraging words.
    I am sure you have prepared him the very best way possible. :)

    • 7.1
      Laura Wittmann says

      Oh I’m so sorry Roan, I will be praying for your son in Florida. So scary! ((hugs))

  8. 8
    Michelle says

    My oldest son just graduated from college in May and he has a severe peanut allergy. I remember how scared I was when we left him at college four years ago. We arranged for him to have a roommate with the same allergy, so that helped, but what about everyone else? Well what I quickly learned is that I had prepared my son to go out into the world on his own. He toook control of his own well being and navigated college and all of its food dangers on his own. As mothers of children who have any kind of special issue, we spend all of our time in fight mode, control mode and most of all worry mode – it’s natural. But I hope that you can take a deep breath and rest in the knowledge that he is prepared because he has a great mom like you. If he knows that you are confident in his ability to monitor his environment and make appropriate choices, he will meet the challenge. It gets easier, I promise! And a good cry always helps!

    • 8.1
      Laura Wittmann says

      Thank you from the bottom of my heart for this encouragement! I so appreciate you sharing your story with me, it gives me strength that I can do this. xo

  9. 9
    Brooke says

    God bless you and your family. I think about this day often, it’s only 5 years away. I get a knot in my throat thinking of letting him do it on his own, yet it’s what we try and teach everyday. Thank you for sharing your story. Prayers for a safe and wonderful college experience.

    • 9.1
      Laura Wittmann says

      Thank you Brooke, hopefully this time next year I’ll be able to write a more helpful post with some tips that helped me get through it. xo

  10. 10
    Molly says

    My food allergic child is in 8th grade. Her older brother is starting the ‘think about college and prep for real’ phase as he gets his sophomore year of high school underway. Its always in the back of my mind — this step. This letting go and letting my daughter fly solo with her allergies. We’ve been working for years to hand off responsibility to her so that when the time comes, I know she’s ready….and yet, she’s always got that Mom-safety net. Scary stuff. good luck and congrats to your son. good luck to you!

    • 10.1
      Laura Wittmann says

      Thank you so much Molly, and to you and your daughter xoxo

  11. 11
    Christine K says

    My daughter is 17 and will leave for college in January we are in Florida and she is applying in NYC! She has life threatening wheat allergy with anaphylaxis and severe reactions to touch and airborne and cross contamination. Of course wheat is everywhere so she does not eat out and basically eats all homemade safe foods. I am so scared about College – but I am focusing on being educated and once shevis accepted we will file for disability services and get accommodstilns through housing and dining and she is very responsible and diligent – so I guess I must focus on that – this is going to be difficult ????

    • 11.1
      Laura Wittmann says

      Yes it’s so hard but I’m a couple weeks in now and I’ve noticed that I’m starting to relax a bit now that I know he’s all settled it and made some friends. I’m not constantly thinking about it like I was at the beginning. All the best to your daughter and you on this big change ((hugs))


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